Signum Surgical emerged from the Enterprise Ireland-sponsored BioInnovate programme at NUI Galway in 2013, which encourages teams to observe clinical procedures to identify innovations for the benefit of patients.
The idea of the programme is to explore unmet needs in a particular clinical area. Eoin Bambury and his teammate Moshe Zilversmit focused on the gastrointestinal system.
“We spent the first couple of months of the programme in hospitals, looking at procedures, talking to doctors, talking to patients and nurses and trying to figure out things that aren’t well solved and things that could have a better solution,” co-founder Eoin Bambury explains. During their time observing the team identified a colorectal surgery problem of perianal fistulas.
Mr Bambury says they had “never heard of it before”. “We saw it out in Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and the patient there that we saw had been back ten times the previous year for surgery for this condition.” As the team looked further into the condition they discovered patients with perianal fistulas don’t have a reliable treatment option.
“We love telling the story that Hippocrates 2,500 years ago described treating the condition using horse hair and the same treatment is still done today using silicon rubber instead of horse hair,” Mr Bambury says.
“The one treatment that works to heal perianal fistulas is called a fistulotomy and that is a surgical procedure that involves opening up the tract, however, it is necessary to cut through the sphincter muscles to do that resulting in an associated high risk of incontinence which patients and surgeons are obviously keen to avoid,” he adds.
Signum Surgical, who are based at Galway Docks, developed the idea for an implant to encourage healing for patients suffering with perianal fistulas.
Although the implant is still in early-stage development, Mr Bambury says the plan is that it will be able to heal the tract reliably and also preserve the continence of the patient once it is fully developed.
Approximately 140,000 procedures take place annually between the US and Europe, with an estimated two in every 10,000 people affected by perianal fistulas. However Mr Bambury believes this figure may be slightly under-reported due to the niche nature of the condition.
Praising the BioInnovate programme, Mr Bambury says it allowed the team the freedom to explore and step out of industry to see if they could find such problems.
With eight of the world’s ten largest medical device companies employing over 8,000 people in Galway, the city has earned a global reputation as a leading hub for the med tech industry.
“The big advantage of the programme was the network really and we had great access to hospitals here in Ireland and it’s also affiliated with Stanford in California so through them we had access to hospitals in the US.
“Then also there’s a huge mentoring network so lot of the medical device entrepreneurs locally and internationally are involved in the programme and they’re really generous with their time.”
After securing a commercialisation grant from Enterprise Ireland, Signum Surgical worked with the funding to develop the device over the last two years at NUIG.
The Galway-based medtech company then raised €2.6 million from high-profile investors to further progress the implant.
Co-founder Moshe Zilversmit was also recently crowned the winner of the Best Business Idea category in Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition, which took place in Galway’s Portershed recently. He was awarded €7,000.
2017 will see Signum Surgical increase their workforce and progress their product on to the next stage of development.
“We’re going to expand so we are looking for engineering people to fill out the team. We want to develop the technology and get it through the regulatory approval towards the end of 2017and then after that we can, in 2018, begin to help patients with this debilitating condition,” explains Mr Bambury.
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